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merits; or, to speak a more just and modest language, beyond the gifts and graces which God hath bestowed upon him. The idea which we form of ourselves, is often a deceitful portrait, drawn by the hand of a flattering artist. Self-love is the artist; and when we view ourselves in this fallacious image, there is no great and good action which we cannot accomplish, and no eminent and important station which we cannot fill up, in our own opinion. This weakness is not peculiar to any age or place: it is as ancient and as wide spread as mankind; and it soon found its way even into the Church, the primitive Church, formed as it was by Jesus Christ himself, and trained up by his Apostles. The holy Spirit of God descended upon it, and enriched it with a variety of sacred gifts: but the restless and turbulent spirit of power and pre-eminence crept in, and wrought in some persons a desire of signalizing themselves, and of assuming more than belonged to them. St. Paul, there fore, as a careful father and watchful pastor, frequently in his Epistles censures this evil disposition, and in the words of the text he thus addresseth himself to the Romans: 'I say, through the grace given to me,' that is, by virtue of my Apostolical authority, which the Lord hath been graciously pleased to confer upon me, I admonish you all in general, and each in particular, not to entertain too high an opinion of yourselves, but on the contrary, sober and modest sentiments; not to aspire to things above you, but to proportion your pretensions and your desires to the knowledge and to the qualifications which you have received from the Lord; according to the measure of faith bestowed upon you.'-Faith, in this place, means knowledge, a knowledge of those truths which are the object of faith; as on the other hand, he who is weak in the faith,' according to the style of St. Paul, means one who is a beginner and a novice, and not yet well acquainted with the system of Christianity.'
Though St. Paul had it principally in his view to check a kind of spiritual pride, founded upon false pretensions to Christian and moral accomplishments, yet his directions are levelled against all pride, vanity, and conceit, as harboured in the mind, and against all the ill effects, the indiscretions, and the irregularities which they excite men to practise.
His words, then, contain two general precepts, the FIRST against presumption; the SECOND against ambition of every
kind or in other expressions, the FIRST against an injudicious and excessive esteem of ourselves; the SECOND against an impetuous and rash desire to ascend to a rank, and to be placed in a situation, for which neither our abilities nor God's providence ever appointed and designed us. And thus the text seems to present to our view a race run by the children of this world, where vanity holds up the glittering prize; and every one eagerly presses forwards to seize it; but either falls, through over haste; or is flung down and trampled upon by the crowd of competitors; or, having grasped the reward, finds it to fade away in his hands, and shrink to nothing.
I. The spirit of presumption consists in thinking ourselves adorned with accomplishments which we have not, in magnifying those which we have, in setting an exorbitant value upon them, and in preferring ourselves to others on account of these qualities, real or imaginary.
I. 1. The first character of presumption is, to imagine ourselves endued with virtues and good qualities, of which we have not the substance, but only the shadow and the false ap-. pearance. This is the fault which St. Paul censures in some, who had joined themselves to the Church, but were either false brethren, or very imperfect Christians; If a man think himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself." -This is the defect, which the Holy Ghost severely reproaches in the Church of Laodicea; Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing;-and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.'
It must be owned, that a worthy and an upright person cannot be quite ignorant of the state of his mind, and of his own dispositions; and that, under a pretence of humility, he is not to disown or vilify the graces which he hath received of God. Though proud and vain men often deceive themselves, yet the testimony of a good conscience is a real possession, and a certain thing. Job, when he was visited with no usual visitation, and his complicated calamities had left him nothing but a dunghill to sit upon, and a few false friends to vex and insult him even there,-had recourse to this solid comfort, that his conscience acquitted him of the heavy charge of impiety and hypocrisy. Till I die, I will not remove my integrity from me: my righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go: my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live.'
But it is certain, on the other hand, that, in self-examination, we should be more inclined to diffidence than to confidence, more disposed to censure than to approve. Of all the blessings which are bestowed upon the good, there is none perhaps more expedient for us, or more to be requested of God, than a spirit of impartiality with respect to ourselves, together with that accurate discernment, that suspicious severity, that care to distinguish between real probity and the false appearance of it, and that caution not to be imposed upon by hypocrisy and dissimulation, which we usually exert when we scan the actions and the pretensions of other people. This is the best security against the dangerous illusions of self-love. The lower we thus place ourselves, the higher we shall rise in the favour of God; and the readier we are to censure our own defects, the nearer we shall be to repentance and amendment.
I. 2. The second character of presumption is the magnifying those good qualities which we have. And here presumption is the more dangerous, because it is not the mere effect of extravagant fancy, but hath some foundation, something real, to trust to and to build upon. A man possesses a certain degree of knowledge, ability, and virtue. It is granted; but nothing is more common than to believe them greater than they are. We compare ourselves with our inferiors, and in those things wherein they are most deficient. We give ear to flatterers, and receive their compliments as due to our merit; or if we are so poor as not to be able, or so frugal as not to be willing, to maintain a flatterer and to pay him his wages, we have one flatterer at least in our own breast to make up the deficiency; and our pride whispers to us, that it is mere envy or ignorance which hinders others from paying us due respect, submission, and applause.
The true nature and degree of any accomplishments and good qualities is never well known and thoroughly ascertained, till they have undergone the proof and stood the trial. It is a common observation in the learned world, that a man's genius and skill can only be scanned and estimated, when his thoughts and his inventions are laid before the public; and that many a person who hath been cried up beyond measure by his friends and dependents, or by party zeal, hath commenced author, and fallen short of expectation. The same remark holds true in the moral qualities of the heart and mind. Hath a man re
solutely exposed himself to dangers in a just and honourable cause? He is then a man of courage.-Hath he rejected the tempting means and opportunities of growing great and rich by dishonest methods? He is a man of integrity.-Is he uniformly just, equitable, charitable, modest, and temperate? and doth he behave himself to others, as his relation to them, his station and situation require? Then may it be truly said, that his virtues are real.
I. 3. A third character of presumption is, to ascribe to the qualities which we possess, an eminence and an excellence that belong not to them. In general, all the qualities of mind and body, and all the external advantages which are commonly called gifts of fortune, all these are so far valuable, as they are useful to ourselves and others, and no farther; so that, by being misapplied, they become contemptible or pernicious.
A man hath a good understanding; his conceptions are just, and well expressed; he hath penetration and sagacity. These accomplishments, what use doth he make of them? If he employs them only to amuse and divert himself and his companions, or to expose and ridicule those whom he dislikes, and to flatter those from whom he hath expectations; if they be exercised on trifling or indecent objects; if his wit only serves to gratify his own irregular passions and those of other people ;his abilities are of no value in the sight of God, or of wise men.
He hath extensive learning and knowledge. To what purposes doth he apply them? Is it to make himself and others better and wiser, and to do service to his country and to religion? Then they are really valuable. But if they serve only to unprofitable enquiries; or to make him vain, presumptuous, dogmatical, and hasty in determining; or to lead him into bold and loose notions tending to the detriment of virtue and piety, -he is entitled to nothing better than contempt and abhor
A man hath riches. Whence came they, and whither go they? for this is the way to form a judgement of the esteem which they and their possessor deserve. If they have been acquired by fraud or violence; if they make him proud and vain; if they minister to luxury and intemperance; if they are avariciously hoarded up, and applied to no proper use, the possessor becomes odious and contemptible.
The same holds true of all external advantages: it is the right use and application which stamp a value upon them.
Thus much concerning the first precept in the text against presumption. The SECOND thing that it condemns, is ambition, which is the natural effect of presumption, and may be called "a desire to obtain the rewards, which we think to be due to us." When we undertake to censure ambition, we must do it with prudence and discretion; for it is a kind of ambiguous passion, sometimes harmless, usually blameable; so that to talk against it in the gross, is declaiming rather than reasoning. Ambition, then, pursues either glory and reputation, or an honourable rank and station, and places of power, trust, and profit.
II. 1. The first object of ambition is glory, esteem, reputation; and, in the desire of these things, there seems to be nothing irregular and vicious. To despise them may be a kind of stupid brutality. The Wise Man says that a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.'-But there are excellent rules to be observed on this occasion, and we ought always to bear them in mind.
First, We must never prefer the esteem of men to the approbation of God. Every day this sacred rule is transgressed, by sacrificing virtue and conscience to false honour and popular renown.
unless it be truly good Then, though men conBut if God condemn
Secondly, Nothing is truly glorious, and conformable to the will of God. demn us, our conscience supports us. us, human applause can make us no amends. And yet these plain principles of reason are eternally contradicted by men, who absurdly will annex notions of honour and glory even to vicious actions. Thus the spirit of revenge, the spirit of oppressive dominion, and the spirit of conquest is applauded and admired; and it is thought to be the mark of a great mind to resent an affront, to humble an enemy, to spread desolation, and to obtain victories at any rate. These illusions have kindled a fire upon earth, which even the Gospel of Jesus Christ hath not been able to extinguish; and which is likely to burn on, till another fire puts it out at the day of judgement. In vain the Scripture tells us, Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.' And, "He that is slow to anger, is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh a city. The world hath